One of my favourite cross-cultural facts is the many different ways you say “Say cheese!” in the various languages we have studied and speak.
In many languages — particularly smaller ones — you just use the English “cheese”, maybe with a bit of modification to the pronunciation.
But a lot of major languages have significantly adapted how to say “say cheese”. I first learned this when I was learning Chinese many years ago, and giggled with glee when I learned that Chinese people say “One… two… three… EGGPLANT!” (Which always makes me smile…)
Anyway, I thought it’d be fun to learn all the different ways people say “say cheese”. I speak most of the below languages, though I don’t speak Dutch, and my Cantonese is just a couple of hundred mispronounced Mandarin words.
So this is how people say “Say ‘Cheese’!” (when taking a photo) in Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, Persian, and more languages.
(Side note: What about Italian, Hebrew, or other languages not on this list? Well, in most of those languages, you just say “cheese!”, pronounced as if speaking the local language.)
“Say Cheese!” in Chinese (Mandarin): “Say Eggplant!”
In Chinese, to say “Cheese!”, you say 茄子!
Literally, 茄子 means “eggplant”. It is pronounced qiézi. To make this word, you have to make a sharp “ch” sound — which forces you to bare your teeth.
This always makes me laugh as I’m thinking about yelling out “eggplant!” which makes it doubly effective.
“Smile!” in Cantonese: Siusiu!
In Cantonese (the second most widely-spoken Chinese language), people don’t say “eggplant” as they do in Mandarin.
Instead, to say “say cheese!” in Cantonese, you either say 笑 (siu), which means “laugh”, or 小小 (siusiu), which — while pronounced similarly (different tone) — literally means “small”!
You might also enjoy our article on facts about Chinese. I swear none of them are boring ones.
Saying Cheese in Korean: Kimchi!
I love this one so much. Kimchi! Or 김치 in Hangul. It’s so Korean, that it almost feel like I’m being culturally insensitive by yelling it out.
Saying “kimchi” has a similar effect to saying “cheese” (or “eggplant” in Chinese) in that it forces you to grit your teeth together, i.e. smile.
On that note — finding good kimchi is pretty hard, but if you’re ambitious enough to try making it, here’s a really good resource on how to do it from Maangchi, one of our favourite Korean cooking blogs.
“Say Cheese” in French: No, it’s not Not “Fromage!”
To say “Say cheese” in French, you say “Dites ‘ouistiti’!“
A “ouistiti” is a small and very cute animal, related to the marmoset.
Pronouncing ouistiti has a similar effect to saying “cheese” in English, in that it forces you to make the sharp ee sound, gritting your teeth.
Alternatives in French are to say Pepsi! (similar effect to ouistiti!) or simply to ask people to smile, by saying Souriez!
Here is our article on resources on how to learn French.
Say “Say Cheese” in Arabic
When taking someone’s photo in Arabic and you want them to smile, you can say a number of phrases involving the noun or word for “smile”.
You can say “يالله، بسمة حلوة”, which is pronounced: Yallah basmah Hilwa! and means “yallah, a beautiful smile!” (“Yallah” does involve a call to “Allah”, but it’s a generic word that has become non-religious.)
Or you can say, more simply, “يالله بسمة” (yallah, basmah) which means “yallah, smile!”
You can also use the imperative of “to smile’ and say إبتـَسّـَم (ibtassam), “Smile!”
Of course, there are many different dialects of Arabic. The phrases above will work anywhere as they rely on standard Arabic, but there’ll be dialectic variations in different places. For example, I saw in a comment thread somewhere that some people say خبز (khbiz, “bread”), but haven’t found much support for that.
“Say Cheese” in Persian: Say Apple!
In Persian, to say “say cheese”, you say “بگو سیب”, which you pronounce begu siib!
The ii in siib sound gets the teethy grin effect, similar to “cheese” in English.
When saying “Say cheese” in Persian, you often stretch out the word “apple” just like you stretch out “cheese”. “!بگو سیــــــــب” “Begu siiiiib!”
If you’re interested in learning Persian, check out my review of how to learn Persian with Chai and Conversation, one of my favourite resources.
“Say Cheese” in Dutch: Lach eens naar het vogeltje!
I barely know any Dutch words, but a Dutch friend did once teach me to say Waar is de kaas? or “Where is the cheese?”. Cheese is a pretty important part of Dutch life, so it’s important to know how to say Cheese in Dutch: Kaas!
But that’s not how you say “Say Cheese”. To say that in Dutch, you say Lach eens naar het vogeltje, which means “Laugh at the little birdie!”
This is such a mouthful (to me, a non-Dutch speaker). But luckily, it’s only the person taking the photo — you don’t have to say anything back!
“Say Cheese” in German: A few options
Like Dutch, Germans also use a phrase involving a little bird, but they only use it for kids: Wo ist das Vögelchen? or literally, “Where is the birdie?”
A few other phrases Germans use for “say cheese” are
- Spaghetti (the “i” on the end elongated, to make you make the “eee” face)
- Käsekuchen — the ä also kind of forces you to smile
- Lächeln — just “smile”!
(Note, my German is definitely pretty basic! The above is what German speakers I know have told me.)
“Say Cheese” in Spanish
The curious thing about saying “Say cheese!” in Spanish is that it’s significantly different between European Spanish and Latin American Spanish.
In Spain, people say Patata! which means “potato”. I suppose it’s a vaguely funny word, but it’s an unusual one on this list, because no part of “patata” makes you make this hissing/teeth together sound that “cheese” does.
In most of Latin America, people say Whiskey! which also means potato (no, it doesn’t). “Whiskey” does make you make a similar expression to “cheese”.
Interestingly, though, patata doesn’t mean “potato” in Latin America. They usually call them papas. And batatas in Latin America are usually sweet potatoes.
In Spanish you can also say ¡Sonrían! or ¡Sonreíd!, which is the imperative of “to smile” to a group of people (in either the usted or the vosotros/as) conjugations. Note the slightly different accents on both.
Got another one? Or an update? We’re always learning. Admittedly while I speak most of these languages, I rarely use this expression (I used it most in Chinese and Korean recently), and we say them less and less in a world of selfie sticks. But let me know if there’s another cool one to add.